Recent Trip Report: Pumas in Chile

Pumas Quest 2016 — Toft Photo Recent Trip Report

It’s was a short one week turn­around after a month in Africa to tracking Pumas in Patagonia, but I hoped my new tita­nium hip and I were prepared for it! Just a short back­ground on this trip. I’ve been hearing about Pumas in Patagonia for a while now and the thought of reli­ably seeing wild Pumas on foot finally made me go to Chile last April, 2015 to see for myself. I had a great scouting trip in 2015 with many Puma sight­ings in terrific land­scapes and kept my fingers crossed for my first offi­cial Puma Quest tour in April of 2016.
Pumas in Chile

After some travel delays for half my small group (due to an airlines strike), we all reached our desti­na­tion in the beau­tiful Torres Del Paine NP. Three of the clients had already spent their first after­noon with a very well-known Puma named Hermanita and were beaming with excite­ment during our first break­fast together. Yes, I certainly was very happy for them, but three of my other clients had not seen their first Puma yet, so after a quick bite, we hit the van for a short ride to a good loca­tion to start our “Puma Quest”. One of the huge advan­tages we have over some other company’s running puma trips in the area is our “three-spotter team”. An hour before my clients and I leave the hotel, our team of expe­ri­enced puma spot­ters have posi­tioned them­selves on hill­tops in a per-deter­mined loca­tion to start the process of finding a Puma for the day. This first morning proved the effec­tive­ness of this system as it need every other morning on our trip — within minutes of putting on our photo packs and starting to hike, we receive a radio call from the spot­ters giving us the good news that a Puma has been spotted and we should get our butts there ASAP!!!! What a great radio call to get! We don’t have any easy stroll to our first puma however…after about an hour of quite diffi­cult walking and hiking, we reach a rocky cliff over­looking a majestic moun­tain lake and lay eyes on our first Puma for 2016 (well, four of us do! As I mentioned, three of the clients had their first puma the after­noon before). As we approach, the Puma is walking along the rocky cliff and finally settles into a little cave to relax. Here we stay for the next 3 hrs. watching a very tran­quil Puma sleeping. Yes, Puma watching has very exciting moments — and also a lot of very boring moments! Pumas, like other cats, sleep a ton! We actu­ally spend some time in the after­noon photographing another Puma that wonders into the area near our sleepy cave sleeping Puma and finish the day back with our young male Puma who wakes up and gives us some very nice images at the last light of day. A great start for our Puma Quest 2016 trip!

_H7Q7496FinalFinalOur second full day has us back to the same area we were on Day 1 and we get our first Puma contact within 20 minutes walk from our vehicle! We all get some very nice images as we follow her coming from a distance directly to our loca­tion. This is the very relaxed super star Puma “Hermanita” again which makes following her at close distance very easy since she is totally obvious to our pres­ence. After about 3 hrs. of watching and following Hermanita, she finally lays down to have a catnap. During her nap a couple guanacos have wandered into the vicinity and start to feed 200 meters from our sleeping cat. Yes…things get very inter­esting — very quickly from this point on!!! We posi­tion ourselves on the other side of the guanacos, just in case our super star decides she is ready to eat. Hermanita does decide she might have a go at one of the guanacos and begins her slow, cat-crawl stock. My group is completely in awe at what we are witnessing. When she gets within 15 of her prey, Hermanita makes a rush at the fleeing guanaco and pursues her quarry for about 50 feet before she breaks off her attack. Wow!!!! We all couldn’t believe that we just witnessed a Puma hunt!

That same after­noon we decided to move posi­tions and spend time at a lake which I had great success photographing a mother Puma and 7 month old cubs last year. Once again upon arrival at the lake a Puma had already been spotted by our advance Puma team and off we went. Upon reaching the white lava rock which surrounds the lake we look down and see our Puma. Wait…what is the small tan object next to her? It’s a Puma cub! And over there in the bushes, another cub, and another! Quickly the cubs retreat into the foliage as the mother Pumas moves off a short distance and lays down. EH7Q1701This we find out is the same relaxed mother Puma that I photographed last year in this same loca­tion, but with her brand new set of cubs! How lucky could one group yet? We figure the cubs may be just under 2 months of age and are still quite nervous to be out and about with mom. Over the next couple days we see the family at a distance but never quite get in a terrific situ­a­tion for photog­raphy. Our group real­izes that we are just super lucky and priv­i­leged to be able to see this young Puma family in the wild.

On one of the days near the lake we also see and photo­graph this mother Pumas older cubs from last year. These two brothers are about 1.5 years old now and will likely be parting ways to lead their soli­tary lives very soon. I couldn’t be happier about our Puma Quest tour for 2016 and can’t wait to return in April of 2017! Will this mother Puma still be with her year­lings?? Will Hermanita make a successful hunt in front of us next year? Will we see the two male brothers in their own terri­to­ries? How many new Pumas will we see???